Ignasi. This is the way Ignatius is called in Manresa, Catalunya where he lived eleven months of his spiritual journey. He was Iñigo in the Basque country where he was born and at the court of the King where he served, from the age of fourteen till he was thirty. At the battle of Pamplona in 1521 his life changed. He became Ignatius later in Paris.
The picture here comes from a tiled portrait in a corridor leading to the cave where Ignatius lived while in Manresa in 1522-23. It represents the last night he spent as a knight in a vigil in front of the Black Virgin at the Monastery of Montserrat. He offered her his sword and changed his clothes for some beggar’s rags. He had planned on leaving for Jerusalem shortly afterwards, but life decided otherwise: He remained in Manresa instead.
In the weeks I spent in Manresa this last Spring, I often stopped at this portrait, putting my hand on his hand, as much in prayer as in appreciation or in communion.
I could identify with Ignatius at this time in his life. He was still very much willful and desirous to impress God as he had wanted before to impress the king or the ladies at the court. Willful, I often am.
A fire burnt in his soul, a fire that led him to fast for days on end and to pray throughout the nights. He worked at a hospital, he prayed at the cathedral, he strolled along the river Cardoner, and he regularly walked the 25 km to Montserrat. He experienced visions, was in a rapture for several days, he wrote in his notebook, and he already helped souls.
I had my moments with Ignatius during those six weeks. I talked to him, I asked for his help, I questioned him how he did all that he did. I discovered a mystic that was arrested twelve times by the Inquisition because he helped souls encounter the Living Godde — and this was not meant to be possible. I saw a man who chose not to call his order the Ignatians, but rather the Society of Jesus, for all that he wanted was to lead people to Jesus and help them see how they could help the Risen One build Godde’s Kingdom.
My most precious moment with Ignatius during these six weeks happened on the first day of our eight day silent retreat. We had had a first meeting the night before, where I had found out that the theme would be, Thy Love and Thy Grace are enough for me. This came as a sort of answer to a question I had had at our last meeting before the retreat, “How do we dare say, Your grace and your love are enough for me, when that is so very much?”
That first morning, then, I sat at a breakfast table where I was alone for a while. This is when I thought of Ignatius and imagined him at another table, with all his early companions, Peter Faber, Francis Xavier, Diego Lainez, Alonso Salmerón, Nicholas Bobadilla, and Simón Rodriguez. They were there to pray with us and to accompany us through this retreat. From this thought on, tears started rolling down my cheeks and within minutes I felt that I could not stay at my table for fear of making a fool of myself. So I grabbed my cup of coffee and my oatmeal and left the room. I went out and sat on the stairs leading to our rooms, in tears. I must have been a strange sight.
I had other moments thanks to Ignatius. During the retreat, I encountered the Risen Christ, so similar in many ways to the statue by Subirachs which I had seen in the silent chapel in Montserrat.
A good friend of mine recently asked me why I liked Ignatian Spirituality so much, since it is “so totally devoid of the feminine.” I am not sure I can answer her question. To me, Ignatius shows me a path to Godde, the Trinity, Jesus; he gives me guidelines on how to discern what comes my way, whether choices or challenges. He helps me see what sort of a person I want to become, what kind of a world I want to work toward. And then, of course, now, I have found companions on the journey, other pilgrims heading to Jerusalem, Rome, or Santiago, and with our universe breathing, groaning, and striving with me.
Ignatian spirituality came to me in a crisis. One thing led me to another till twenty years later when I came to Manresa, where Ignatius’ ‘primitive Church’ began. I found myself in Manresa after having prayed to Ignatius years ago asking him to help me understand what he was all about. One morning, during the retreat, I walked over to the Chapel of the Rapture, this small hospital where he worked and also laid there on the ground at one point for over a week, without eating, drinking or speaking. I prayed for a while and, as I was leaving, I turned to Godde and said, “You gave me so much more than I asked for.” At that point, it was as if, once again, Godde gave me a hug for understanding how divine love works.
One with you in the Risen One.